Home' Defence Technology Review : DTR OCT 2014 Contents 15
DEFENCE TECHNOLOGY REVIEW | ISSUE 03 | OCT 2014
AHRLAC gets airborne
Skin for machines
on the way?
Computer-generated image of a pair of weaponised AHRLACs
showing the underwing hardpoints carrying ordnance.
The Advanced High-Performance Reconnaissance Light
Aircraft (AHRLAC) from South Africa’s Paramount Group
made its first flight on 7 August, marking a major milestone in
the platform’s development.
The first military fixed-wing aircraft to be fully designed,
tested and developed in Africa, AHRLAC is a multi-role
aircraft which integrates designs from attack helicopters,
surveillance platforms and reconnaissance aircraft with the
ability to carry surveillance sensors, weapons, radar and
electronic warfare systems. This, Paramount claims, has
brought advanced operational solutions, historically requiring
more costly aircraft or complex unmanned aircraft systems.
Designed for both civilian and military tasking, the
adoption of a belly-mounted pod system enables the
aircraft to be configured for patrol and reconnaissance,
intelligence gathering, close air support and cargo resupply.
The design is modular so as to support maximum basic
airframe commonality and rapid role change for the various
configurations and the ready integration of equipment and
electronics in a ‘plug-and-play’ fashion.
For the patrol and reconnaissance mission, typical
equipment fits for AHRLAC would include 360° radar and an
electro-optical sighting system, electronic countermeasures
and electronic attack systems, missile approach warning,
radar warning receiver, laser warning receiver, chaff and flare
The light attack configuration – taking in counter-
insurgency, light attack and close air support – would see
the aircraft equipped with a mix of guided missiles, rockets
and smart bombs on four or six weaponised underwing
hardpoints and a 20mm fuselage-mounted cannon, plus
a laser rangefinder and target illuminator, optional Martin
Baker Mk 16 ejection seats for the two crew and cockpit and
propulsion system protection.
The AHRLAC pusher configuration utilises a Pratt &
Whitney PT6A-66B 950shp turboprop (with growth potential
to 1,600shp), granting high cruise and dash speeds coupled
to long range and extended loiter times /time over target.
The aircraft’s high wing provides largely unobstructed
fields-of-view for the crew and good short-take-off and
landing capability and rough field performance. The
retractable landing gear has been optimised for semi and
unprepared sites and sized for the fitting of optional extra-
large high-flotation wheels/tyres.
The aircraft was designed and built by more than 60
engineers and technicians. One of the most innovative
aspects of the construction phase is that of the 6,000 parts in
the aircraft, 98 per cent were designed and produced locally
by the engineering team. Since project launch in September
2011, the team has spent 315,000 labour hours completing
detailed designs and manufacturing the first prototype.
Dr Paul Potgieter, chief executive officer of AHRLAC
Holdings said in a company release: “Every single part of the
aircraft was pre-designed on a computer which allowed it to
have a jigless construction. This means that every part fits
together, much like a Meccano set, which saves vast amounts
of money and time – especially when exporting globally.”
The jigless manufacture was made possible by
parts being pre-drilled and machine made, allowing
for accuracy, reduced need for hand building and
therefore less time to build. “We have made all the
tools for production for all sheet metal pressings
and composite parts so it enables us to hit
production much quicker than other aircraft,” adds
Contrast this with the other notable combat
aircraft to be built in Africa, the Rooivalk attack
helicopter, which had to be built by hand.
A Paramount spokesman told DTR that the
company is currently building the second AHRLAC
prototype, which will be used for testing all aircraft
systems, including weapon systems, sighting and
surveillance sensor suites. This aircraft will be
ready in the first half of 2015.
Whilst the production and through-life support
costs for AHRLAC have been kept low to enable operation
by second and third tier forces, the South African company
confirmed that the aircraft was also attracting interest from
– Ian Bostock
PERFORMANCE & SPECIFICATIONS
Take-off Distance: 550m at full payload
Max Take-off Weight: 3,800kg
Payload (at full fuel): 800kg+
Max Cruise Speed: 272 knots
Service Ceiling: 31,000ft
Max Mission Range: 1,150nm
Max Ferry Range: 2,000nm
Dimensions: 10.5m (length)
The initial AHRLAC prototype during flight tests.
Images: Paramount Group
Rendering of the ‘smart skin’ concept applied
to a military aircraft.
Image: BAE Systems
Engineers at BAE Systems’ Advanced Technology
Centre in the United Kingdom are developing a surface
coating which could be embedded with tens of thousands
of micro-sensors to allow platforms to effectively sense the
When applied to the entire surface of an aircraft for
instance, the coating – which the company terms ‘smart skin’
– will enable it to sense wind speed, temperature, physical
strain and movement far more accurately than current sensor
The sensors will also be able to detect airflow across
multiple surfaces to improve flight characteristics. Similarly,
vessels gliding through the water will be able to detect
These tiny sensors or ‘motes’ can be as small as grains
of rice and even dust particles at less than 1mm squared.
Collectively, the sensors would have their own power source
and when paired with the appropriate software, be able to
communicate in much the same way that human skin sends
signals to the brain.
The sensors are so small that BAE Systems is exploring the
possibility of retrofitting them to existing aircraft and spraying
them on like paint.
The concept could enable aircraft to continually monitor
their structural condition, enabling early detection of
structural fatigue before it becomes significant and reducing
the frequency of routine maintenance inspections, in turn
lowering through-life costs.
The work, which has been underway for five years, is
part of a range of new systems being investigated under a
major in-house research program exploring next-generation
technology for air platforms.
According to senior research scientist Lydia Hyde, it is likely
to be 15-20 years before the ‘smart skin’ technology matures
and is applied as a factory coating to military platforms.
Live aerodynamic data
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